Former Attorney General and current Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Christian Porter has dropped his defamation case against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan.
The defamation case centred on a series of article published by the ABC about an alleged historic rape by a Cabinet Member.
Porter then named himself as the Cabinet Member referred to in the story, but has strenuously denied all allegations of rape.
According to the ABC, both parties have agreed to pursue the matter no further, and no damages will be paid.
In a statement, the broadcaster wrote, “the ABC stands by the importance of the article, which reported on matters of significant public interest, and the article remains online.”
An Editor’s Note has been added to the top of the initial article, reading:
“On 26 February 2021, the ABC published an article by Louise Milligan. That article was about a letter to the Prime Minister containing allegations against a senior cabinet minister. Although he was not named, the article was about the Attorney-General Christian Porter.”
“The ABC did not intend to suggest that Mr Porter had committed the criminal offences alleged. The ABC did not contend that the serious accusations could be substantiated to the applicable legal standard – criminal or civil. However, both parties accept that some readers misinterpreted the article as an accusation of guilt against Mr Porter. That reading, which was not intended by the ABC, is regretted.”
The ABC then defended its investigative and public interest journalism, and said that it “stands by Louise Milligan, one of Australia’s foremost and most awarded investigative journalists, and all our journalists in their independent and brave reporting on matters about which Australians have a right to be informed.”
Last week one of Porter’s barristers, Sue Chrysanthou SC, an esteemed defamation lawyer, was made to step aside from the case.
Her removal from the case came after Justice Thomas Thawley found that she had been privy to confidential information which made her involvement a conflict of interest.
The conflict of interest claim centered on a meeting between Chrysanthou and Joanne Dyer, a friend of the deceased complainant at the center of the allegations, and a potential witness for the ABC.
Porter took part in a press conference on Monday afternoon to discuss the defamation, where his tone was rather different to that of the ABC’s statement.
“That is a humiliating backdown by the ABC, no matter what way they want to spin it,” Porter said.
“I never thought that the ABC would settle. I never thought they would say they regret the outcome of the article. I never thought that they would concede that the accusations that were put in the article could never be proven, could not be proven to the criminal standard or the civil standard.”
“I did not think, frankly, there was any chance of them making those types of statements to settle this matter. In fact, I was astonished, last Friday, when they asked us into an urgent mediation.”
Louise Milligan, though, took to Twitter shortly afterwards to refute Porter’s claims.
She wrote: “Mr Porter proposed a settlement first.”
“If he wants to dispute that, happy to refresh his memory and release the terms he offered.”
The ABC then released another statement refuting Porter’s claims.
“The ABC has not said that it regrets the article,” they wrote.
“As we have stated, the ABC stands by the importance of the article, which reported on matters of significant public interest. The Editor’s Note says: “(B)oth parties accept that some readers misinterpreted the article as an accusation of guilt against Mr Porter. That reading, which was not intended by the ABC, is regretted.”
“The ABC has never and still does not accept that the article suggested guilt on the part of Mr Porter. The ABC did not plead a truth defence to the “guilt” meaning that Mr Porter alleged in his statement of claim.”
“The article was not “sensationalist”. It was an accurate and factual report on a letter that had been sent to the Prime Minister and two other senior politicians.”
“Communications concerning the mediation started before the commencement of the Dyer v Chrysanthou proceedings. It is simply incorrect to suggest that evidence in that case led the ABC to seek mediation.”
“Mediations are very common in defamation matters, and it is important that all litigant parties seek to explore potential resolution options when they can – especially so for the ABC as a model litigant.”
“As a public broadcaster, the ABC considered the payment of mediation costs to be a responsible course of action. The resolution reached avoids further significant legal costs.”
Now, Labor is calling for an independent inquiry into the historic rape allegations.
Mark Dreyfus, Shadow Attorney-General, said in a statement that, “the decision by the former Attorney-General Christian Porter to abandon his defamation action against the ABC means Mr Morrison no longer has an excuse to refuse to hold an independent inquiry into these allegations.”
“Only a truly independent inquiry, conducted at arm’s length from Government, according procedural fairness to Mr Porter and all witnesses appearing before it, will provide an opportunity for the serious allegations against Mr Porter to be tested. Australians must be satisfied that Mr Porter is a fit and proper person to serve in Federal Cabinet.”
“As Labor said from day one, Mr Porter’s defamation action was never a substitute for a proper independent examination of Mr Porter’s fitness to serve as a minister.”
“Contrary to claims made by the Prime Minister, no investigation into these allegations has ever been concluded. NSW police were unable to conclude their investigation into this matter due to the tragic passing of the woman at the centre of the claims, there has been no investigation by Federal Police, and no investigation by the Prime Minister or anyone in his government.”
Porter has said that he will run in the next election.
This article was updated on 1/6/2021 to reflect new information.
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